Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Alf Tennyson's height made it hard to hide
His muse would find him crouching
Beneath a privet hedge or sitting
Among the branches of immemorial elms
Swearing at the bees in a fierce whisper.
"Enough of this, Tennyson!" his muse would call,
"We have a contract! 133 cantos, no more or less
In iambic tetrameter. Rhymes to be ABBA.
I have a new idea for a title. How does
'Artie Hallam -- My Dead BFF’ sound to you?"
"I like In Memoriam A.H.H. better." "As you will;
Now, out of the vegetation, man!
Cantos can't write themselves you know."

Monday, May 30, 2016


The poem arrives first
So defined it's shadow
Could be weighed on a scale.
It’s an important poem,
Or thinks it is.
It fidgets, shoots long cuffs,
Looks at its gold watch,
Shrugs and lights a cigarette.
The poet slowly coheres
From the bluish smoke;
The glance he gives
Is not a friendly one.

Friday, May 27, 2016


In certain seasons of the year the wind
Picks up small things in
Patagonia --
Mice, twigs, sins of a non-serious nature --
And rains them on
Buenos Aires.
When he was young, the poet Borges
Persuaded Bioy Casares to free the wind
From the jar where the town council
Had imprisoned it by a vote of six to three.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


My father sang his children to sleep
But my mother thought her voice
Would breed bad dreams.
I wonder who told her this?
In a pleasant alto voice
She'd sing quietly, to herself,
When she didn't know I listened.
My father knew every lyric;
My mother made hers up as needed.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Li Po occasionally turns up
In my father's stories .
Protean, he does magic,
Directs traffic, sings opera
With Placido's brother
Furioso Domingo.
It was Li Po who knew
Where my father's friend
Ming the Merciless was hiding
When he fell on hard times.

Monday, May 23, 2016


The Lone Ranger, my grandmother said, was a show-off;
Catch Tonto naming his horse Silver! No, Tonto
Rode Scout, an unobtrusive paint, patient and durable.
Unlike Silver, Scout never needed to be rescued
From an enraged buffalo ("and why was the buffalo mad?
Silver probably said something to insult him.")
My father, 11, who listened in the kitchen
Almost every day, decided he'd know he was old
When he woke up preferring Tonto.

Friday, May 20, 2016


… there is a Russian tale about a prince
Who every day rides a hundred leagues or more
And every evening finds old Baba Yaga waiting
With a courteous greeting and a pot of stew.
After a very long time he notices
That each Baba Yaga is slightly younger
Than the one he saw the night before.
In its only surviving version the story breaks off
When the prince is chatting with a Baba Yaga
Whose hair has just started to go grey.
I've often wondered how the story ends
Or if it has ended at all. Perhaps the prince
Now meets Baba Yagas so young
He must bring in kindling and light the oven.
Perhaps he sings to them or tells them stories
Of all he's seen and of the other Baba Yagas
Each of them a day's ride from the next.
Or maybe one morning he says
"Come along, Baba Yaga! Climb up behind;
A brisk day's ride waits for us both
And stew, a hundred leagues away."

Thursday, May 19, 2016


How unfriendly new gravestones seem!
"Here I am, perfectly straight,
Magnificently heavy;
My neat-carved letters tell the world
This man is dead! Just let him try
To get by me! I am determined
To hold him down forever."

                                                  In time,
The ground shifts a bit and tree roots
Tilt the stone. It relaxes, becomes lenient
"Hey, corpse! Your name has blurred
And the date of your death is unreadable.
If you want to get up and visit a while
With the other dead folk, go ahead"

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Zvei Max

Ways to tell my grandfather Max from Max the Emperor:
My grandfather is the one who was never
Duke of Carinthia nor of Brabant, Lorraine, Styria,
Limburg, Carniola, Luxembourg, or Gelderland.
He wasn’t the Landgrave of Alsace either
Nor, no matter how much you pleaded, could he
Have made you a margravine, a herzog or even a graf
On the other hand, if you wanted a warm coat
Applying to the Emperor would have been useless;
The man couldn’t even thread a needle!


The Emperor is the one whose mother
Did not give him a tallis bag when he was thirteen;
My grandfather, in return,never gave Henry VIII
A helmet with rams horns and spectacles;
I suppose this makes them even.

As to ghosts, the Emperor saw more than a few
My grandfather, I believe, only knew one. Maybe two.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


When Max the Emperor died his body
Was stowed in a temporary grave
Until, a hundred years later,
The Empire could afford a monument.
Modern research has shown, though,
That the body re-interred with due pomposity
Was not Max's but belonged to a Croatian gypsy
Whose soul gave the canons of the cathedral
Terrible dreams in which he demanded to be freed
Of the load of ill-carved stone on top of him.
Also, he pleaded, he did not much care
For the company of the royal corpses
Buried nearby. Rereburial was unthinkable
But the cathedral officials did their best,
Pulling strings to have Janos the Fiddler
Awarded three medals for services to the state
And posthumously raised to the lower nobility.

Monday, May 16, 2016


The stars, said the Abbot Trimetheus,
Were exactly right. Should Maximilian wish
He might converse that night with ghosts
But only three. Summoning more would imperil
Both their souls. What spirits, then,
Did the Emperor wish to see roused
From their uneasy sleep?

The results, as recorded by the scribes,
Were mixed. Alexander the Great was away
Conjured by some Tuscan sorcerer
His son, also Alexander, came in his place.
He was chatty but, having been poisoned at 14
Had no useful strategic advice to offer .
Julius Caesar, bored with himself, insisted
On talking about carpets and the rules of prosody.
The last ghost -- whose husband Max had been
Until the Pope said otherwise -- was pleased
He'd remembered her;  she said that death
Wasn't nearly so bad as she'd expected.

Friday, May 13, 2016


Whether he will or no, miracles happen
In the vicinity of saints and so with Jerome.
The patches on his clothes wait until he sleeps
And sew themselves more firmly in place.
Dogs, meaning to attack him, find themselves
Apologizing in passable Latin and slinking off
Bewildered. (Long afterwards they’ll wake
Growling “Cave! Canis malum!”) Some nights
A cop who died in 1947 swings down the Avenue
Leaving a dime and half a cheese sandwich
Beside each homeless sleeper. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016


I would see him
Seventh Avenue
In a doorway
Or performing small miracles
In his sleep.
Centuries ago
When he and language fell out

Silence sheltered him.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Chinese demons have trouble
With winding paths.
Byzantine demons are visible
Only over one's left shoulder.
Jewish demons obey the Law
Of Infinite Regression.
Evil demons are shadowed
By ones urging good deeds
But good demons
Are plagued by their followers.
Hard, being a Jewish demon!
But not lonely.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


When at last one cannot tell that here
A church once stood, the kirkgrim
Is relieved of duty, given a suit of clothes
And a very small sum of money
Having been, perhaps for centuries, church spirits
They are woefully unprepared for the modern world.
Those who look like men are able
To find work as bartenders or navvies or ninjas
But those of animal shape too often take to crime.
It is for them we solicit today. Give as your heart prompts
Remembering that your spirit, from the look of it,
May well spend time in similar plight.

Monday, May 9, 2016


In Heaven, of course, God lives
In a vast marble palace. Formerly
It was all brightly painted.
Tastes change; it is now blindingly white.
Since the terms of His being require
That He be everywhere, He maintains
A high-ceilinged apartment in Hell
On a quiet street Baron Haussman
Razed from
Paris. (Hell often buys such things;
From the roof of God's building one can see
Most of the 1939 New York World's Fair.)
In a small cupboard off the servants' room
(What sort of God travels without
A valet, a factotum and two cooks?)
Are piles of wingless prayers
All of which God intends to answer, someday.

Friday, May 6, 2016


April is the coolest month
Bleeding lilacs out of the deadland
Mincing memory's desire
With sage and turtlewort
Until the unblest king
Unblesses us with fire.

Avril is the keyless mouth
Reading cold locks out of winter's grave
Mischling memory must depart
To fight against the sum of man
Who thwarts us with an unburnt heart.

Thursday, May 5, 2016


Two Buddhas
One wood
One clay
Ignore each other on the mantle.
Between them
A clock.
Over them
A picture of persimmons.
Clay Buddha urges me
To join him
In ignoring Wood Buddha.
Wood Buddha
Tells the clock
That time
Has great yellow eyes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


My mother's stepmother's mother
Ruled the kitchen. When arthritis
Forbade her using can openers
She’d hurl meat cleavers across the room
At cans of condensed milk set on a table.
Her loaves of bread were painted
With egg yolk. She used a long feather
So old her own mother might have known
The aboriginal goose from which it came.
 ("She'd heard of germs," my mother said,
"But did not believe in them.")
When my small mother needed love here
Was where she found it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


I might well have drowned at 17
Had a boy on shore not decided
To impress a girl by saving me.
I came close enough that a spirit
Was already hanging about. Oddly,
I recognized him. It was Gucko
My brother’s imaginary friend.
So powerful was Eugene’s imagination
That he had squads of such friends
Plainly visible when I was two
And he was five. They were mostly
A surly, dour lot. Had they been old enough
They’d have loitered about unshaven,
Unlit cigarettes dangling from bitter lips.
Gucko was better natured than most
But clumsy, constantly walking into things
Or tripping over his feet. I hadn’t seen him
For years. Frankly, I had hoped
For a more impressive psychopomp
If not Hermes himself at least, say,
Culsans, the Etruscan god of doors,
Or the aboriginal Barnumbirr.

Years later, I ran into Gucko in Penn Station.
The trains weren’t running that night
So we went into a Starbucks for lattes.
He said it was probably just as well
That I’d not died in that Israeli lake.
Having little sense of direction he’d been
A poor psychopomp and many of his dead
Were still wandering about the world.
He was living on a pension (I had not thought
Imaginary folk had IRA’s, joined unions
Or paid into social security)
But hoped, though his skills were rusty,
That some strange and lonely child
Might take him on again.

Monday, May 2, 2016


The scheduled dream was so dull --
It was about auto maintenance
And the importance of eating soup --
That I had intended to sleep through it.
But you strode in and the carburetors
Stopped singing about mangel-wurzel
To stare. Having taken leave of the Academy
You were masked and dressed as a luchadore
With great multi-colored wings such as Raphael
Might give an angel sent to ask Mary
Out for a night on the town. The catalog in my lap
Proved, when I looked, to be a fight card
The main event in capital letters
And rebellious serifs trying to strangle them:
I coughed feathers for nearly a week afterwards.